Roush Review: ‘Guernsey’ a ‘Downton’-Like Treat, Agatha Christie’s ‘Ordeal,’ a Musical ‘Freaky Friday’
So much for the so-called dog days of August. This Friday offers an unusually busy and diverse array of choices, including two movies and a limited series on streaming and cable.
While fans of Downton Abbey wait impatiently for the film version of their beloved period drama, they could do worse than immerse themselves in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a sentimental heart-warmer of a literary romance, adapted from Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s bestseller into a movie acquired by Netflix.
Though the title is a mouthful, Guernsey’s appeal is as simple and universal as a satisfying book-club read. And it’s just such a club, formed during WWII on Nazi-occupied Guernsey in England’s Channel Islands, that draws the attention of writer Juliet Ashton — played by winsome Lily James, one of several Downton stars in a cast that includes Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay and Matthew Goode.
A letter from unassuming pig farmer Dawsey Adams (Game of Thrones’ dashing Michiel Huisman) inspires Juliet to put her postwar career and engagement (to a dull American) on hold to travel to the pastoral isle to learn of the deprivation, sacrifice and devotion that bonded this group. (Their name, and the movie’s title, comes from an inedible local dish created after the Nazis took all of their food animals.)
The emotions are real, even when the events are a bit sanitized. And when’s the last time you saw a movie so besotted with the written word?
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Premieres Friday, Aug. 10, Netflix
In an Agatha Christie mystery, is anyone truly innocent? Even the victim? In a three-part adaptation, and alteration, of a 1958 classic, writer Sarah Phelps follows up her terrific versions of And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution with Ordeal by Innocence, a dark dive into twisted family melodrama.
Meet the Argylls, a brood of unhappily adopted wartime orphans who grew up with little love for passive father Leo (Bill Nighy) or waspish mother Rachel (Anna Chancellor). When mommy un-dearest is murdered in 1954, black-sheep son Jack (Anthony Boyle) is convicted and dies in prison. But 18 months later, a mysterious eyewitness emerges, providing Jack an alibi and sending the clan into a tailspin of mutual recrimination and suspicion. The damaged younger Argylls are well played by Christian Cooke, Crystal Clarke and Ella Purnell (Sweetbitter), with scene-stealing honors going to Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson as Mary, the embittered oldest daughter, and Matthew Goode (again!) as alcoholic Philip, her malicious wounded-veteran husband, who revels in the scandal.
“So deliciously squalid,” Philip gloats, urging on the twitchy and possibly untrustworthy witness (Luke Treadaway, twin to Mr. Mercedes’ Harry). The story’s diabolical new ending might make even Christie gasp, yet it fits the crime.
Ordeal by Innocence, Premieres Friday, Aug. 10, Amazon Prime Video
Like Mother, Like Daughter
The plot is familiar, but chances are you haven’t experienced it with a beat you can sing to. Disney Channel’s peppy musical version of Disney favorite Freaky Friday may not erase memories of the popular 1976 and 2003 movies, but the clever score by Pulitzer Prize winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal) brings a fresh, fun energy to the body-swapping generation-gap shenanigans.
You’ll laugh in the “Oh, Biology” number when teenage Ellie (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), whose mom has taken over her body, belts, “My over-40 soul is in a teen cliché,” while feeling high school hormonal surges. And is that a lump in the throat when uptight mom Katherine (Broadway pro Heidi Blickenstaff), who’s actually Ellie inside, expresses the epiphany that “Parents Lie” with their words and hugs? It’s freaky how timeless this fantasy is.
Freaky Friday, Premieres Friday, August 10, 8/7c, Disney Channel